Last night’s Metro Performs auditions proved how hard it must be for D.C. artists to find regular gigs. It also reiterated just how far people will go to have an audience, captive or not.
Metro’s open call produced a disparate bunch—-a tattoo artist who painted nonpermanent tattoos, a few mediocre vocalists, and a classical cellist I definitely wouldn’t mind hearing while I waited for a train. And while the judges disclosed from the start of each audition that artists would have up to five minutes to perform, few got more than two minutes before they were silenced. But some kept playing anyway.
An issue Metro might want to consider, besides the quality of the actual performances, is the quality of the instruments and equipment. One blues guitarist was pretty good, but his banged-up guitar was way out of tune. An older West Indian gentleman’s steel drums managed to fall apart while he was setting them up. He cursed as he was leaving. And a fairly decent singer said she would have brought accompaniment, but she couldn’t find her keyboard player, who is homeless, prior to the audition.
Angie Gates, associate general manager for the Warner Theatre and one of the night’s five judges, said the panel was looking for “overall talent,” and that she was only impressed with maybe 20 percent of the auditioners. But even for some of the more talented artists who fell within that 20 percent, some performances seemed a little off. Like the hip-hop poet who was great in a Def Poetry Jam kind of way. But who’s really in the mood for frenzied talk of revolution while they wait for a train?
And what about the teeth-whistling guy with a winning smile and an upbeat rendition of “New York, New York.” He’s not likely to make the cut, and that’s a little disappointing. Sure, the teeth-whistling guy never attained perfect pitch and it was hard to imagine him commanding an audience of pre-caffeinated commuters. But he had spirit and spunk, and if he wants to share his talents, can Metro really stop him?
Well, not really. As it turns out, even after the Metro-regulated performances begin, the teeth-whistling guy will still be able to wend his way into Washingtonians’ hearts. According to Michael McBride, Metro’s Art in Transit program manager, the chosen musicians will be permitted to perform 15 feet away from the Metro station in “designated spaces” and will receive roughly $200 per session. But, “If there are artists in public space, for obvious reasons, we can’t control that,” he said.
—-Amanda S. Miller and Jessica Gould